Gov. Moves to Lift COVID Measures
April 29, 2020
After weeks of social distancing guidelines, stay-at-home orders, quarantines and business, bar and restaurant closures, Montana Governor Steve Bullock announced on April 14 that the state will begin a phased reopening of the economy. It's a move that has delighted and frightened many at the same time but comes as Montana experiences some of the lowest COVID-19 infection rates in the country. Montana also has experienced few deaths, especially when compared to neighboring midwestern and northwestern states.
In fact, as of April 27, Montana had experienced fewer than 450 COVID-19 infections-the second lowest behind Alaska-61 total hospitalizations and 15 deaths. Of those infections, 352 have recovered and 11 were recorded as active hospitalizations. Also, a highlight of the state's containment efforts was the fact that only one case of the disease had been added to the roster on Monday after completing 171 tests for the day.
The Governor's directive and guidance on the reopening of the economy followed the release of federal guidance on reopening across the country. The effort called for a phased approach with incremental steps that start off slow and attempt to return to relative normalcy following phase three. There is no timeline associated with the phases and the transitions will depend largely on conditions on the ground.
Following the Governor's announcement on April 22, Valley County rescinded all COVID-19 related health orders on April 23 with the signing of Health Order 2020-06. This order lifted restrictions on bars, restaurants, contractors, out-of-area visitors and returning residents while also making the Governor's directives the only restrictions on daily life in the county.
Immediately following order 2020-06, the health officer put out order 2020-07 that established a new version of the two-week quarantine period for all returning Valley County residents and out-of-area visitors. This order requires people to quarantine at home on their free time but allows them to go to work.
The direct language of the order states, "Any persons entering into Valley County from without shall self-quarantine for a period of fourteen (14) days of their arrival." The order expires at 12:01 a.m. on May 4 and does not require the quarantine period to continue after that date.
For Robyn Albus, owner of Robyn's Nest Home Décor, the news of a reopening was welcomed, and she opened April 28 at 9 a.m. for the first time since being shut down in mid-March. Still, Albus stressed that safety is always a concern and her store will adhere to physical distancing standards and will have three hand-sanitizer stations around the store.
To accommodate those customers who are vulnerable or concerned, Albus said Robyn's Nest will provide curbside service and is working on allowing internet orders on a forthcoming website (robynsnesthomedecor.com).
"We're very excited to be back open," said Albus, "we can't wait to see our customers."
As for the last month and a half, Albus said the closures were difficult for her home décor business. Specifically, she said missing the Easter holiday was a hard blow and a very busy time for her business that she regrets having missed. Robyn's Nest did try to compensate for the closure by offering delivery services and other methods of shopping through the store.
"We've done what we can, but it has been a tough go," she said.
Regardless of the last few weeks, Albus intends to push forward with a new start and work towards recovering her lost time and profits in the coming phased opening and eventual recovery. She also wants to focus on the good things and move on.
"We're just going to start fresh and hope this plague gets taken care of," she said, before adding later that, "Keeping everything positive and safe is our main goal. It's almost like reinventing your business."
The Governor's guidelines for reopening the state are broken down into "individual" and "employer" categories and calls for everyone to maintain social distancing, good hygiene and staying home if sick. Employers are supposed to develop polices to allow for social distancing, temperature checks, sanitation, disinfecting high-traffic areas and collaborating with public health officials on contact tracing, testing and isolation efforts.
In phase one, vulnerable individuals should continue to follow the stay-at-home guidance to avoid infection. It further calls on those living with vulnerable persons to be aware of their risk of spreading the disease to vulnerable people if they fail to isolate those people.
Phase one also allows for public activity such as using available open businesses, parks and outdoor recreation facilities but still calls on people to "maximize physical distance from others. It also limits crowd sizes to less than 10 people if social distancing is impractical. Phase one also limits any non-essential travel and still requires people leaving Montana and returning to quarantine for 14 days.
For employers the first phase of Montana's reopening maintains guidelines for telework for any employee that can work from home. For those who cannot work from home, alternate work schedules are encouraged to limit close contact. Strict social distancing is also a requirement for all employers during phase one.
Senior living and assisted living facilities must continue to prohibit visitors during the initial phases of the plan. Child care facilities can return to business but need to follow state and local guidelines on operational levels and occupancy. Organized youth activities can return to normal if they can maintain social distancing levels. If social distancing cannot be accommodated than groups should be limited to 10 or fewer people.
Restaurants, bars, breweries, distilleries and casinos can return to business on May 4 but must follow "strict" physical distancing and reduced capacity protocols. The establishments are also required to close by 11:30 p.m. every night during phase one. Retail businesses can return to normal operations but must follow physical distancing protocols.
Gyms, pools and hot tubs are to remain closed during phase one. Outdoor recreation sites can return to operations with strict physical distancing standards, frequent sanitation and disinfecting if facilities are open.
Churches were allowed to return to normal operations on April 26, provided they limited capacity to a number that allowed for strict social distancing between non-household members. They are further required to limit groups to 10 or fewer if physical distancing cannot be maintained.
Phase one restricts all other businesses that accommodate groups of 10 or more to remain closed. Those businesses include movie and performing arts theaters, concert halls, bowling alleys and bingo and music halls.
In phase two gatherings can expand to 50 people but still require strict physical distancing protocols. Vulnerable individuals should continue to stay at home. Gyms, pools and hot tubs are allowed to reopen but must require physical distancing, reduce capacity, ensure hygiene and strict sanitation efforts.
In phase two, non-essential travel is still restricted, and employers should still allow for telework whenever possible. When telework is not possible, employers should still allow for alternating schedules. Nothing changes in phase two for senior living and assisted living facilities from phase one. Youth activities can continue from phase one guidelines but can boost group sizes to 50 people.
In phase two, all businesses can reopen but must adhere to physical distancing guidelines. Food service, bars, casinos, breweries and distilleries can remain in the same operating capacity as phase one but can increase capacity. Establishments like bowling alleys, theaters and concert, music and bingo halls can reopen and limit crowds to 50 people and accommodate safe physical distancing standards.
In phase three, the limits on group sizes are lifted, vulnerable populations can reengage in daily life and public interactions but should adhere to strict social distancing guidelines and other precautions. Also in phase three employers can resume full staffing, reduce restrictions and begin following updated federal guidance.
Senior care facilities can begin allowing visitors but the guidance requires those visitors to be diligent regarding hygiene. All "businesses/places of assembly" can remain fully operational with "awareness" of physical distancing standards. The only non-typical restriction on places of business and individuals in phase three is physical distancing, sanitation and hygiene protocols.